Saturday, September 13, 2008
The Cellist Of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway
My timing was off as to the reading and reviewing of this novel. Had I finished it the week of July 20th, my review would have coincided with this headline:
Serb Fugitive Captured At Last
“…former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic…captured and arrested in Belgrade...has been wanted for war crimes including genocide since 1995, when he was held responsible for the shooting of hundreds of Bosnian civilians from the hills above the Bosnian capital during the 1992-1995 siege of Sarajevo…”
The Cellist of Sarajevo is a powerful haunting novel about that siege. To illustrate the undaunted spirit and courage of those who endured the siege, Galloway makes use of the true story of cellist Vedran Smailović who played Albinoni's Adagio for 22 days to honour 22 victims killed by a mortar while waiting in line for bread in Sarajevo in 1992.
To me, the cellist’s magnificent gesture is not only one of bearing witness but is also a cry from the human soul – You can destroy everything I hold dear, but you cannot take away my music – my very essence, my spirit.
And while this historical event plays a pivotal role in the book, there are other characters whose lives demonstrate the courage and strength required to survive amidst the destruction and ruin of a city and a way of life they once knew.
Worn down to the very essentialness of their being, they carry on despite the chaos, fear and horror. They come to the realization (as does the reader) that the evil of war need not triumph over the hope and spirit of the individual.
“He will behave now as he hopes everyone will someday behave. Because civilization isn’t a thing that you build and then there it is, you have it forever. It needs to be built constantly, recreated daily. It vanishes far more quickly than he ever would have thought possible. And if he wishes to live, he must do what he can to prevent the world he wants to live in from fading away. As long as there’s war, life is a preventative measure.” (excerpt page 248)
There’s a great risk (if indeed not a fact) that we can become inured to the barrage of newspaper headlines regarding war, siege, strife, famine and hardship in the world.
And when this happens, I’m a firm believer in the ability of fiction to step in and aid us in achieving some measure of understanding and comprehension as to what humanity endures.
With this heartbreaking but inspiring story, Steven Galloway shows how survival is possible in a city under siege – not in a physical sense (because survival in that sense is not a given) but in terms of the human spirit.
Excellent read – highly recommended.